Tossing a diploma in the air isn't always worth the debt, so many are opting for professional certificates. Credit: Thinkstock
If you’re strapped for time and cash, a certificate can be the next best alternative to the long-term investment of a master’s degree.
“The certificate is great for a career professional that’s already experienced to some degree, looks to broaden and deepen their knowledge, and seeks to have the opportunity to understand leading practices,” says Janet Rizzuto, managing director of human resource studies at Cornell University's School of Industrial Labor Relations in New York City.
Kelly Otter, associate dean of graduate academic and faculty affairs at Northeastern University College of Professional Studies, agrees. “They are also expedient for those who need to quickly gain a specific professional credential.” Plus, they’re appropriate for professionals considering a master’s degree but don’t know whether the area of study is right for them, as well as gaining “new skill sets to change careers.” For instance, a certificate in leadership can lead to skills in managing teams, ethics, strategic thinking and understanding, and negotiating organizational culture.
Each school’s programs and admissions processes vary; Northeastern offers brick-and-mortar as well as online classes that take about a year to complete. They don’t require GMAT scores. “Rather, we place strong emphasis on previous coursework, grade point average, letters of recommendation and personal essays that describe their rationale for applying to the program and how it will help them achieve their career goals,” explains Otter.
Since most program faculty have industry experience, they teach specific skill sets using real-world examples. Cristian Gallardo, associate director of continuing education at Hunter College, explains, “In today’s market, a marketing expert who also knows graphic design is a more valuable employee than the one who does not.”
Added value is particularly important when jobs heavily weigh the certificate. Mohnish Sani, co-founder of CareerGlider, a site where job seekers can research skills needed for a particular career and where to acquire them, adds, “In-demand jobs like medical coding and billing and computer programming are great examples of careers that require a certificate. Tech companies usually hold certificates in specific studies like project management or C++ in high regard because of the expertise associated with having completed a program. When someone applies for a job, having a Six Sigma certificate will outshine a candidate who does not have it.”
Regarding tuition, Gallardo points out an interest-free payment plan for Hunter students, though companies may foot the bill, too. “Some companies have incentive programs for their employees. Some will pay [a percentage] annually; some will pay for a single class or a complete certificate program. Often companies will ask for proof of a passing grade and payment.”
As for asking your employer to cover the cost? Rizzuto advises, “Do the research on the value proposition to the employer first and then to me as an individual. The value proposition for what I’m going to do better and faster, how I’m going to advance my own level of performance and how I can transfer my knowledge to others.” So, a $12,000 Cornell ILR certificate in diversity management or the EEO professionals certificate ($2,000 for each course) to be completed within 18 months can technically be amortized across a few employees.
Although the proposition is for your current employer, that certificate can bode well on your resume for future ones, too. Rizzuto adds, “A certificate is not going to be a slam dunk to get the interview. Having a certificate can give you a little more of an edge with similar candidates [without their certificate] when people are deciding how to advance them.”
A survey of healthcare, technology and general business companies conducted by Destiny Solutions revealed:
• 87 percent of employers said their employees' level of educational attainment positively affects their salaries.
• 78 percent of employers said additional study while employed is a factor in advancement and promotion.
• 70 percent of employers say today's employees need continuous education and training just to keep up with their jobs.
• 95 percent of employers financially support the continuing education of their employees.
• 62 percent of general businesses, 55 percent of health care companies and nearly 70 percent of technology companies reported that it didn't matter if students were taking a class for credit or not.